Hip-Hoperation Earth

by Professor A.L.I.

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“The earth in revolution, returnin’ to a point before the humans’ devilution” –these are the last words off of Hip-Hop-E, in which the E, if you haven’t figured it out yet, stands for the Earth. My solo career as an artist (which began with the Carbon Cycle Diaries LP, and was followed by the Emerald Manifesto LP) has consistently been inspired by our planet; Mother Earth and her fate remains my muse because this is the narrative that most perplexes me. Carbon Cycle Diaries was “a call to planetary arms” and Emerald Manifesto laid out a plan for permaculture, noting that hope for our planet was possible if we followed a path of regeneration.

Regeneration requires the engagement of an entire generation. Currently this type of action happens sparingly, in pockets, localized in particular regions—yet it isn’t a global call. The planet is not engaged in this, because every step we take, corporate interests to maximize profits, or political parties focused on trying to maintain a semblance of governmental control have undermined the scale of the larger movement and while we have days like Earth Day to remind us of our duty to the planet or drought induced policy changes (at least in California), these are drops in an ever diminishing bucket and the hope of Emerald Manifesto led to the creation of Hip-Hop-E.

The Emerald Manifesto lays out a plan – in the face of our wasteful ways… 

On Hip-Hop-E, I engaged with the idea that we are the problem and that ultimately, it is not the earth that must evolve but that we must be cleansed, so that the earth can hit the reset button. I remixed a feature from Sadat X to use for a hook, and engaged with the idea of the planet returning to a point before we destroyed it, using its own mechanisms to cleanse the disaster we’ve made during our stewardship of it.

This is a shift from “Eco-Rap” that KPFA labeled my music as back in 2011 and it’s a huge shift from songs like Earthsong featuring Blue Scholars. It isn’t invoked by cynicism but an epiphany from study of various texts, religious, spiritual, predictive and scientific and the theme that emerged to me is our insignificance and our hubris to believe otherwise as a species.

By hubris, I mean the belief that we have the ability to damage our mother irreparably and to further believe that her fate is with a savior that is also us. It was this second point that made me pause wholly and reconsider the dominant narrative. What if we were not caretakers, but germs, that needed to be cleansed? Yes some of us were like good bacteria, helping the host body, but the vast majority of us were like laboratory-produced strains of Ebola—hence the metaphor of an inevitable apocalypse.

Is it so hard to believe? We send so much junk into the universe, inject it into the veins of our mother and subject the very life essence of this planet, the water to waste that makes panacea turn poison and we expect that “Chickens won’t come home to roost”? This was the mental frame of mind in which this song was written… and it contains a quote from my late brother, Malcolm Shabazz, quoting his own grandfather, Malcolm X—and I agree with him—and of course I am frightened. I am fearful for my family and friends and our entire race, because of the inevitable karmic Armageddon we have invoked. My hope is that we somehow come to our senses and engage in a planetary paradigm shift, perhaps its not too late… yet here we are & here it is:

I’m not the only planetary Hip-Hop “Raptivist” or artist—nor did I create this genre but like my brothers from Earth Amplified or Sustainable John, I’ve definitely put my voice behind it—for this Bhooma Devi is our mother, and we are being held hostage by her other rebellious sons and daughters, along with her and this is how we voice our frustration. Peace to my fellow Hip-Hop Eco-Raptivists and Green Hip Hoppas… Peace to the Earth and those who cultivate her, hoping to regenerate what others have destroyed and Peace to all the Shamans, Priests, Imams who congregated and lead their congregation in planetary healing prayers and paradigm shifts in action. PEACE.

Black Skin, White Masks: My Song with Lord Jamar

If any moment validated what I do as a poet and artist, it was speaking with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian over the phone about the track I’d just sent him and my concept for it.   Anyone who knows me, knows that Brand Nubian, and in particular Lord J, with his lyrical content, voice, and spirituality had a profound influence on me as an artist and as a Muslim.  I remember playing Claimin’ I’m a Criminal on repeat, over and over again as a college student—Lord J’s and also Sadat X’s lyrics spoke to me on both an experiential and existential level.  Here were two black men, who embraced their identity and did not wear masks.

From time to time I’ll ‘check’ for Lord J, and I always appreciated how sincerely he ‘repped’ his faith and identity in all the forms of artistic expression.  It’s something I sought to do in my artistry as well, and found in Lord J a model to emulate.  So for all these reasons, talking to Lord J was a bit surreal for me.  However the conversation surprisingly flowed naturally between the Hip-Hop legend and me, the upcoming poet.  I showed him the respect he deserved which I think he appreciated.  We live in a time where many a young artists neglect the forefathers and forbearers of Hip-Hop, i.e. those who laid down the path that these young artists themselves now walk freely.  Many of these artists are oblivious to who the legends are, and the years these figures spent in the game, at a time where Hip-Hop was given no ethos in popular culture.  I guess I must’ve stood apart from them to Lord J in some way because he also showed me love and agreed to participate in a song which was ironically aimed at the very concept of identity which he’d been speaking up for, for years.

It was almost as if the song was meant to be.

We began and ended the conversation with the word “Peace”, and a week later I had lyrical gold sent to me as an e-mail attachment.  I called up my boy, fellow Brand Nubian fan, Hakim, who always plays the role of the laidback cool kid in the back of the room… but even he was noticeably ‘juiced’ as I leaked the news.  “I just got a feature from Lord J,” I said.

Now I’ve been in the booth with E-40; and on my first solo I worked with Raekwon, Canibus, Sadat X, Hussein Fatal and Killah Priest, and since then other legends, as well as contemporary heavyweights.  However this song and its message along with the person featured on it, held special weight.  It meant and still means something special.

This ‘feature’ meant an almost perfect marriage or Lord J’s appearance to the lyrical content to the custom beat made by Arun Trax which used a vocal sample from the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad; in addition to top it all off, the song itself was titled after the seminal work of Frantz Fanon, White Skin, Black Masks.  The song was meant to be both a history lesson regarding people of dark skin or African descent in the West as well as a wake-up call to many of what Hip-Hop had been and could still be: message driven music.

So for the backdrop for this song, my team shoes an appropriate video, the infamous ‘Black Sambo’ by Warner Brothers; a ‘banned cartoon’ because it depicts in the most heinous of ways a child of black descent in such a negative light.  It spoke to the essence of the song and seemed almost tailor made to convey the  lyrical message which ironically speaking to issues that sadly still exist in society today.  Another layer of irony is that it was images like ‘Back Sambo’ which reinforced in the minds of many black and other children of color growing up a sense of inferiority.  These children then grew up to wear ‘white’ masks to move forward in society.


Hip-Hop
is a way of communication positive messages and it gives voice to the voiceless.  However those that say Hip-Hop is dead say so because it has become a co-opted art form in becoming an almost self-deprecating form of expression especially as it is packaged in its erudite now popular form—I would argue that in this sense while Hip-Hop seams ‘dead’ to its message driven roots, the message does live on.  Hip-Hop is alive overseas; it lives in basements, in backpacks, in taped up headphones worn by street urchins, in cyphers comprised of orphans, and in vocal booth microphones that embrace the spit of authentic stories which are often ignored by popular media.  Hip-Hop lives in large part to the continued investment of those who have laid the path like Lord J.

Lord J, gains nothing from our collaboration—instead he builds and gives back, he allows the spotlight that has embraced his years of work to shine ever so briefly on an up and comer like myself.

PEACE, Lord Jamar, thanks for doing this young up and comer a solid on this joint.  I was honored that you would consider it in the first place.  While the song may not have a mass audience, it speaks to issues that continue to affect the masses. PEACE, Professor A.L.I.

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Keep Hip-Hop Alive watch the video here and support the song and album Carbon Cycle Diaries on iTunes.